You should never judge the will of man in anything that you may see done or said by any creature whatsoever, either to yourself or to others. My will alone should you consider, both in them and in yourself.
–The Dialogue, 91
As much as we long for autonomy and control, one of the best things that can happen to us is to realize that we are dependent and can no more control our own life than we can control whether the sun rises in the east.
In Jeremiah 27, the prophet Jeremiah has to warn the people that it is God’s will that the nations oppress His chosen people on account of their many sins. The people cannot understand. As Children of the promise, they thought that God would make everything go right for them—that their crops would flourish, their children grow strong, and their enemies always flee before them. But now, as the exile to Babylon draws near, it seems more and more likely that God has other plans.
Sound familiar? When things are going well for us, we tend to get complacent. In our riches, we grow foolish, like the psalmist says, thinking that our wealth will last, the bull market will never fail, our political candidate will surely win, and nothing will ever go wrong. In these moments, our pious prayers turn into little more than requests that God might preserve us in His special favor.
The problem is that God does not will the limited and often incomplete good that we perceive—health, wealth, power, beauty, fame, or what have you. These goods, though truly good, are not sufficient to make us fully happy.
Instead, God wills our ultimate good, which is, simply put, his Divine Good brought to fruition in us. If we are kept from our true Good by perfect weather (an opportunity for some sin, perhaps) or an ever growing stock portfolio (perhaps an encouragement to greed) or impeccable health of the body (maybe leading to seeing ourselves as our own strength), neither does God will it. He wills our happiness, our ultimate happiness, and He wills whatever will lead us to that perfect happiness.
This is not to say that God wants us to get sick, but he might permit it. God does not directly will the moral evil that one man may do to another, but He can be at work despite this sinful evil. He wills the good that can piece back together this shattering of His moral law. Whatever can lead us to heaven and leads us back to Him, He wills or permits.
His ways are above our ways. His thoughts are above our thoughts. And we are not in control. God is. He knows us better than we know ourselves, and the Good that He wills for us will make us truly happy.
So when we pray, we should pray not that God might conform His will to our great ideas—my will be done on earth and with You in heaven—but that He might gradually conform our wills to His Divinity, so that in good times and in bad, we might praise His goodness. And at the hour of our death, that we might be ready to say wholeheartedly, “Thy will be done in heaven as it has been in my life on earth.”
Image: Tom Butler